Monday, May 28, 2018

Crimean War steamers Abundance (bakery) and Bruiser (flour mill)

The famed cook Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) wrote Soyer's Culinary Campaign (1857) about his experiences to improve the cooking and baking for the British Soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-56).  Floating bakeries on ships were described at length; from "working of the flour" to 15+ thousand rations baked each day.  More on floating mills HERE

The two ships were moored with many others at Balaklava Harbour.

“The floating bakeries called the Bruiser and the Abundance were now ready to commence baking, and were visited by all the authorities—Lord Raglan, Sir John Macneil, Colonel Tulloch, Commissary Filder, Dr. Sutherland, the Admiral and the Commandant, &c. The vessels were so crowded, that Captain Thompson, with whom I had the pleasure of being well acquainted, expressed his fears of never being able to make a fair beginning. Good bread was at that time, I must say, the most important thing wanted. Bakeries were in course of erection at Kadikoi, so that between the steamers and them about twenty-five or thirty thousand rations could be made, producing a supply of bread four days per week, and the other three biscuit. No one could then wish for better field rations.

Soyer’s ship was “moored next to the Abundance, and so close that we were able to walk from one ship to the other, which gave me the facility of watching the process and system of that important floating bakery, as well as the perfection of its mechanism.”

"The good done by this bakery was incalculable. They baked from fifteen to sixteen thousand rations daily, with perfect ease. In justice to the system, I must say, it answered admirably. I carefully watched its progress, and though the quality of the bread often varied, which was entirely owing to the difference in the quality of the flour supplied—and this is unavoidable in so large a supply as is required for an army,-—I can certify that the working of the flour in the bruiser, the process of manipulation, and the baking were carefully attended to. In the beginning, it is true, yeast could not be procured in sufficient quantities. At last, they discovered a way of making it themselves. It is due to their exertions to say, that the bakery at Kadikoi was not making as good bread as the Abundance. It is true, they did not possess the same facilities.

We had made on board the Abundance several samples of bread-biscuit, which I had the honour of submitting to the Duke of Newcastle during his visit to Scutari. He tasted it both in its dry state, and also soaked in broth, three months after having been baked, and highly approved of it, considering it an excellent invention for the soldier’s camp meal, as well as for the navy.
"The ship Abundance, lately arrived, has its bakery at work day and night, turning out excellent bread, which will take the place of the sour and mouldy article often sent from the contractors at Constantinople. M. Soyer has invented a most important kind of bread, which seems to unite the advantage of the loaf and the biscuit, and has found out a. method of cooking salt rations which ,makes them most palatable and entirely removes the salt. His receipts have been highly approved, and will be printed by the authority of head-quarters. The camp kitchens he has invented for field hospitals will soon be in activity, as those of the chief hospitals already are; but his suggestions and their application are of so practical and extensive a nature that they will require a second letter from, Sir, your obedient servant, C. H. B. Scutari Barrack Hospital, June 7.”
Soyer, Alexis.  Soyer's Culinary Campaign. London: 1857.

More from: 

BAKERIES, ARMY. … Among other lessons afforded by the siege of Sebastopol, was one relating to an improved supply of army-bread. Two screw steamers, the Bruiser and the Abundance, were sent out to Balaklava, one provided with machinery for grinding corn [wheat], and the other with machinery and ovens for making and baking bread. In each case the ship and the machinery were propelled by the same steam-engine. When quietly anchored in the harbor, the mill ground 24,000 lbs. of flour per day-better in quality, and cheaper than could have been obtained by contract. The bakery ship Abundance had four ovens of 14 bushels' capacity each; it baked in an excellent manner 6000 loaves of 3 lbs. each per day, which loaves were sent up to the siege-army as soon as cooled. The ships and machinery were sold when the war was over - a proceeding which the commissariat officers much regretted; but the experience thence obtained will not be lost.
Library of Universal Knowledge, 1880

"Balaklava May 26th, 1855
… The troops are fed in the most luxurious manner, except in the article of beef, which is the most wretchedly lean miserable looking stuff conceivable. I suppose as the season advances bullocks will get fat. Fresh bread has been brought from Constantinople for some time; a bakery is now established at Kadikoi, and another has been sent out fitted in a small ship.

Mr. Soyer is busy organising kitchens. I have seen a good deal of him; he is exceedingly egotistical, but has all the marks of a great man in his own line. His conversation is all about his work; he soars beyond mere sauces and ragouts, but goes into the expense of different markets and different sorts of food, and examines whether fresh vegetables from Constantinople are or are not better than compressed ones from France. He has given me a recipe for making ship's beef and pork delicious, and says if he could have had his way it would (five or six years ago) have been preserved with far less salt than at present, and would not have cost a bit more or been more liable to decay. There is a little cholera in the camp and there have been a few cases down here, but it does not increase."
Heath, Leopold.  Letters From the Black Sea During The Crimean War 1854-1855.  London: 1897

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
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  1. My Great-Great-Grandfather Robert Johnson (Welsh, from Bangor) commanded the Abundance for the Commissary Dept.
    I don't know any details of his service in the Crimea and am not sure if he commanded the Abundance at the time of Soyer's visits.